2013 Lexus ES 300hPosted on February 28th, 2013
Five-passenger sedan with hybrid technology
By Nina Russin
When engineers configured the current Lexus ES sedan that rolled out last year, they added a hybrid model that uses similar technology to the Toyota Prius. The ES has moved upstream since the CT 200h hatchback took its place as Lexus’ entry model. The front-wheel drive ES now sits between the compact CT and mid-sized rear-wheel drive GS.
The wonderful thing about Toyota’s hybrid technology is its invisibility to the driver. Since the battery pack recharges off regenerative energy, refueling is the same as for a traditional gasoline car. The only difference is that the car owner makes fewer trips to the gas station, due to the car’s extended range.
A 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine and electric motor/generator mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission provide the power. Engineers utilized an electric water pump, electric power steering and integrated the electric motor into the assembly, eliminating the need for drive belts. Not only did this reduce internal friction for better gas mileage, it also spares owners from paying for replacement belts.
Engineers have extended the range and speeds at which the sedan can function in electric-only mode. During my weeklong test drive, I noticed that the car went into EV mode at speeds as high as about 30 miles-per-hour, as long as power demands were low.
The only downside to the hybrid model from the owner’s perspective is the premium he pays for the technology: about $2900 over the base ES 350.
MSRP for the 2013 ES 300h is $38,850 excluding the $895 destination charge. Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring, lane departure alert with intelligent high beam headlamps, navigation with rear backup camera and Lexus Enform, power trunk, intelligent park assist, cargo and trunk mats.
A luxury package adds semi-Aniline leather trim, heated and ventilated front seats, front passenger seat memory settings, driver’s seat cushion extender, bamboo trim and a power tilt-and telescoping steering wheel. A leather shift knob and heated wood steering wheel completes the list of options, bringing the final MSRP to $47,994.
Forty mile-per-gallon fuel economy
As someone who grew up during the carburetion era, I can’t help but be impressed by a 3660-pound passenger car that averages 40 miles-per-gallon around town. During my 100-mile test drive I averaged 38.2 miles-per-gallon in city and highway driving. I did not use the eco mode that extends gas mileage by modifying the throttle map and shift points, nor did I drive with eggshells under my feet.
The newest ES represents a quantum leap in the car’s evolution, both from a styling and engineering point of view. The model that began life as a dressed-up Toyota Camry has become a completely different animal. Designers gave the ES exterior more aggressive styling, beginning with the brand’s new spindle grille. LED daytime running lamps and tail lamps are similar to European luxury brands.
Engineers pushed the wheels closer to the corners, reducing front and rear overhangs for better high-speed performance. The new car’s wheelbase is about 1.8-inches longer than the outgoing model, adding more legroom for both rows of passengers.
Although the new ES can’t match the rear-wheel drive GS on the racetrack, enhanced torsional rigidity has improved the sedan’s steering feedback. An electric power steering system provides ample assist at low speeds. There’s a slight lag in on-center response, typical of EPS. But drivers should not have problems making quick lane changes or performing an evasive maneuver.
The four-wheel independent suspension that consists of MacPherson struts front and back is compliant without feeling overly soft. The chassis was flat and I felt well in control taking a cloverleaf ramp at speed. I did not notice any overt tendency for the front-wheel drive chassis to push.
Ventilated disc brakes in front and solid rotors in the back stop the sedan in a firm, linear fashion.
Visibility around the perimeter is enhanced with the optional blind spot monitoring system that illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors when cars in adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots.
The optional rearview camera that comes with the navigation package shows a wide-angle view to the back of the car when the driver shifts into reverse. Not only does the system eliminate blind spots in the back corners and below the rear glass, it also makes it much easier for the driver to monitor cross traffic in parking lots.
Adding to the sedan’s wheelbase enabled engineers to increase room in the passenger compartment. Increased legroom is especially noticeable in the second row. Because of the front-wheel drive configuration, there is no floor tunnel to consume room in the middle position, so the ES can comfortably accommodate five adults.
Standard keyless entry and start enables the driver to enter the car and fire the ignition without removing the key fob from his pocket. Upon exiting the vehicle, he simply slides his hand over the top of the door handle to lock up.
The ES interior includes the amenities one might expect of a vehicle in this price range, including power front seats with lumbar support, a premium audio system with Bluetooth interface, dual-zone climate control with rear vents behind the center console bin, power moonroof, automatic dimming rearview mirror and satellite radio.
I found the driver’s seat to have ample lumbar support for drives lasting over an hour. Lexus is known for its quiet interiors, and the ES is no exception. Passengers in both rows of seating will have no problems conversing on the highway.
Displays on the center stack screen give the driver information about fuel economy, navigation maps, the audio system and more. Lexus Enform includes apps such as Bing, iHeart Radio, Pandora, OpenTable and MovieTickets, which the driver accesses by pairing his smart phone with the car’s head unit.
Due to the battery location, the vehicle loses about three cubic feet of cargo space as compared to the ES 350. In addition, the rear seats do not fold flat to extend the cargo floor for longer items. While the ES 300h has plenty of room for luggage, groceries and golf clubs, buyers whose cargo needs include room for larger items would be better served with one of Lexus’ cross-utility vehicles.
The Lexus 300h comes with front, side, side curtain and front knee airbags, antilock brakes, vehicle stability control, tire pressure monitoring, a tool kit and first aid kit. Lexus Safety Connect automatically notifies police and emergency medical personnel in the event of a serious collision.
The Lexus factory warranty includes emergency roadside assistance and complimentary lodging if the breakdown occurs more than 100 miles from home.
The new ES 300h is currently on display at Lexus dealerships nationwide.
Like: The Lexus ES is a quiet, comfortable five-passenger sedan with outstanding fuel economy and a high level of standard safety features.
Dislike: Due to the battery location, the cargo bay might not meet the needs of some buyers with active lifestyles.
Model: ES 300h
Base price: $38,850
As tested: $47,944
Horsepower: 156 Hp @ 5700 rpm (engine only). 200 net horsepower
Torque: 156 lbs.-ft. @ 4500 rpm (engine only).
Zero-to-sixty: 8.1 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 40/39 mpg city/highway
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